The cannibal-horror film Raw, directed by Julia Ducournau, is already making quite a stir in the film community. There have been rumors of audiences fainting due to its graphic depictions of cannibal gore. Visceral cinema, or boundary pushing cinema, is nothing new to the Hollywood stage. As we anticipate the expansion of Raw and the entering of a new provocateur in the cinematic landscape, let us take a look at some other visceral, boundary pushing films:
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST – Directed by Ruggero Deodato
The granddaddy of all cannibal films, Deodato’s scathing and powerful critique of western imperialism is probably one of the most controversial, daring, and grotesquely ugly films ever made. Deodato filmed real animal violence to tell the story of arrogant documentarians who push an indigenous tribe located in the Amazon to extreme acts of violence. The film contains incredibly graphic depictions of all kinds of violence, which is why it was banned in over 50 countries (many bans still existing today). The feature remains heavily debated by critics, many claiming that it, despite its more salacious qualities, is an intelligent critique and satire of the western world, particularly of the media. In many ways, this is the Grindhouse version of Network and one that shouldn’t be missed–if you have the stomach for it.
I STAND ALONE – Directed by Gasper Noe
Any one of extremist filmmaker Gasper Noe’s features could make the list, but none are as intense as his debut narrative, I Stand Alone. The film is a violent and bloody exploration of a butcher who suffered assault as a child and finds himself struggling with the terrible repercussions in his adult life. The film’s depiction of its protagonist, who is only known as “The Butcher” is thoroughly uncompromising. It may be as sensational as it is revolting, but it is a harrowing look at the effect of the loneliness brought on by childhood drama.
ANTICHRIST – Directed by Lars Von Trier
Another well-known provocateur, Lars Von Trier, shocked and disturbed even his more ardent fans with his deconstruction of the horror genre, Antichrist. The film details a couple as they grapple with the ramifications of a family tragedy. Von Trier flawlessly blends the intense emotion of a kitchen-sink drama with familiar horror tropes to create an experience that is as deeply affecting as it is horrifying. It is most well-known for a certain sequence that has to be seen to be believed, but is no doubt one of the most memorable (for better or for worse) experiences one can have when watching a movie. The film is also anchored by two outstanding, must-see performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
SWEPT AWAY – Directed by Lina Wertmuller
Lina Wertmuller explores class with her regressive sexual fantasy that details the experiences of a rich socialite woman who becomes stranded with one of her male crew members during a luxury yachting trip. Alone and miles from civilization, the two begin to form a bond that is at times, romantic and other times, violent and oppressive. The film explores the two characters as prisoners of their economic standing. It was criticized for its depiction of Stockholm Syndrome and for being “misogynistic” due to the treatment of the female protagonist, Raffaella, but it has also been praised for being an uncompromising exploration of class dynamics. Its ending is as tender and heart-wrenching as any romance film.
THE NIGHT PORTER – Directed by Liliana Cavani
Italian director Liliana Cavani’s film has been largely dismissed by critics, but remains one of the more intriguing movies of its era, in my opinion. The feature details a concentration camp survivor and a former SS-Officer with whom she had an abusive relationship. The two reconnect and resume their brutal relationship in the wake of being tracked and hunted by a group of mysterious former Nazis. The film, from Cavani’s point of view, depicts the effects of fascism after it falls and the psychological consequences on both, its victims and its perpetrators. The narrative is slow, but intimately told and while its subject is certainly harrowing, Cavani doesn’t quite sensationalize the plot, making it one of the more unique films of its genre. Also, it features one of the earlier starring roles of the great Charlotte Rampling.
FUNNY GAMES – Directed by Michael Haneke
Michael Haneke explores the horror medium with the dark and twisted Funny Games, in which two criminals take a family hostage in the family’s summer home and then, proceed to force them to play “games,” which become progressively more and more sadistic. The film is brutal and cold, but is a powerful statement on our obsession with extreme cinema. What’s most unique about Funny Games is that there is zero enjoyment derived from the horror depicted within; it manages to play with familiar horror conventions, but does not break them nor manipulate them, which creates an experience that is truly unlike any other. This is one of the most disturbing and upsetting films you can see and still a subject of controversy for some critics.